“Why are you still here?”
I get that question all the time: I’m 40, with the salt and (mostly) pepper beard, the 100-yard-stare. I get mistaken for the owner of the places where I work because of my age. Yeah, I’ve been through the wringer. I’m okay with it.
To be honest, it is a question that I often ponder myself. Come on, Douglas, you could’ve gone anywhere in 10 years. You could be a doctor! Where’s that novel? Where’s the kids, the wife, the camper, that comfy 401K?
Short answer: Right where they need to be.
Maybe I should explain how I got “here” in the first place. I do believe in looking forward, but I am allowed to reminisce.
I grew up here, in Winston-Salem. I worked in restaurants to get by, the usual fare for people my age. I received an unnamed degree from an unnamed college and, in the spring of 2000, I moved to Wyoming.
I worked seasonally for an outfitter south of Jackson Hole, the “Rich Man’s Cherokee.” I spent summers guiding tourists through the Wind River Range on pack mules. Autumns involved working hunting camps in the wilderness and guiding big-game hunters. Winter, I was a caretaker. I stayed on as the sole relief at an old ranch, 22 miles from any paved road. I didn’t see a soul for two months during one stretch. If not for fate and family, I’d still be there, I suppose.
I came back because my father took ill, and later passed. Shortly thereafter, my mother required care. I did what anyone would do. I moved back for good. That meant finding a job.
I really didn’t want to get back into the service industry. I was a security guard, spending my nights making rounds, reading books and chasing off vagrants. I took up carpentry and handyman work. I tried writing how-to articles for local magazines. I had to be flexible with my time to handle family obligations. I tried everything: farming, sales, promoting bands… all were soul crushing examples of why I left this city in the first place.
So I found myself re-enlisting in the industry I had left a long time ago.
I applied at a corporate restaurant and was hired right away. There, I met like-minded individuals with little or no direction, and I spent the next two years learning the intricacies of the service industry, which had waited so patiently for me to come back.
We won’t delve into the hell that is a corporate restaurant, not today at least. One learns efficient service, but the money is shit and servers are the most expendable thing on the menu. I was fired from that job for refusing to pay a bill for a guy who ran out on his tab. I still had standards (and I didn’t have the money).
I went to downtown Winston-Salem to drown my sorrows (and inquire about employment) at a friend’s watering hole and was hired on the spot. It was night and day. Employees treated fairly. A study group didn’t determine what script you had to greet your table with. No prick district managers showing up calling a 30-year-old “Sport” and asking how many appetizers you sold that night. Oh man, I was downtown!
It fit. I belonged somewhere, finally. I hadn’t spent much time there in the past 10 years. There were rumblings, though. Something was “HAPPENING.” I still remember the BYOB parties at the Wherehouse back in the late ’90s, which is presently Krankies. This seemed like an extension of that early excitement, yet more cohesive. Tangible. A lot had changed, but the soul was still here. The potential.
I’ve spent the last 10 years mostly on Trade Street in Downtown Winston-Salem. I’ve served and tended bar. I’ve help design, build and run restaurants from the ground up. I’ve owned and operated hot-dog carts on the late-night, rain-soaked streets. I’ve helped organize and run festivals, concerts, soirées and everything in between. I’ve dealt with the worst of the worst, the best of the best; I can’t honestly tell you which ones I liked better. I’m a bartender, logician and jack of all trades. I currently work at two, sometimes three bars, and hope to open one of my own at some point. If I know anything, it’s this life and the people contained therein.
And I write.
Why am I still here? Because I like it. Because I think I’m good at it. Because if I started over in anything else, I’d be another 40-year-old washout with the same directionless malaise I possessed 10 years ago.
Now, I want to write about this life: the people involved, the etiquette required and the expectations one should have when considering a career in this… business. Or you can just thank your lucky stars that you’re not a part of it.
I’m still here because I want to be. I’m still here because there are stories to tell. I’m still here.